Anti-covidanxiety Toolkit #4
Previous Anti-covidanxiety Toolkits are available here.
I'm going to start with a confession this time. A couple of mornings ago, I put my regular walk on hold for over two hours, reading instead a whole string of bad coronavirus news. I finally got myself off and went for the walk. But when I got back I proceeded to go right back to the internet, getting lost in Facebook this time. I saw some wonderful and heartening things but I also saw a lot that was either irrelevant or very anxiety producing. Did I follow my own advice and limit my time there? Noooooooo. Instead I stayed on, for two hours. (You should know that I had sworn off Facebook about nine months ago because I know how easily I can get addicted to it.) In any case, that means that I spent over four hours that day hunched over a computer, with very little to show for it except a painful shoulder and stiff neck, and high anxiety. And that was all before I got around to having my "quiet time" (prayer, journaling, etc.) which I usually try to do before or right after breakfast. Sigh...
Hence my first tool in today's toolkit.
If you slip, get up. I'm borrowing another concept from twelve step programs here, where people refer to going back to the addictive behavior(s) one used to practice as "having a slip." When that happens it is so easy to try to beat yourself back into submission. My response tends towards berating myself for my lack of discipline or common sense, for not doing what I encourage others to do, for generally being a terrible, or at least very insufficient, human being.
But guess what? That oppressive self-judgment tends to keep me sprawled down there on the floor where I landed when I slipped. And then I feel even worse. So I tend to beat up on myself more, then slip (dare I say wallow?) around even more.
The word from people who know all too well about slips? if you slip, get up. A slip is just a slip. It's not the end of the world. It doesn't mean I am the worst or least together person on the planet. It just means I need to get up and try again. Fortunately, I was reminded of that saying, and was able to get myself outside into the garden for a couple of hours. Doing something meaningful with my hands, being outside, getting exercise...I felt so much better. And I'm very grateful I have those options; I know a lot of people don't right now.
All of which leads naturally to the next tool.
"Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This is a two-pronged saying, as far as I am concerned: be kind to (1) yourself and (2) others. This quote is usually attributed to Plato or to Philo of Alexandria but Quote Investigator notes that the correct attribution is Ian MacLaren, the pen name of 19th century Scottish minister John Watson. In one of his books, Rev. Watson discussed the saying: "This man [sic] beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self." He might well have said "the woman (or man) inside us)" as well.
There is no period in our collective lifetime when we have needed to heed this counsel more than we do today, for ourselves and for others.
Live and let live. This is, of course, related to the previous tool. We are all going to react to the immensity and stress of this pandemic in different ways, so it can be helpful if we can live our lives and let others live theirs. Even within groups of people in the same situation there may be radically different responses.
Some of the best advice I ever got about dealing with grief was in a class on death and dying when I was in nursing school. And since we are indeed facing grief these days (among other things), it's relevant. "Everyone deals with grief differently," our professor said. "Allow people their own way of dealing with it. Don't expect the path of their grief to be the same as yours, even if you are very close." I had to lean on that advice pretty heavily less than a year later when one of my older brothers took his own life. When my family members all responded differently to his death, that encouragement from my professor helped me let go and allow them to have their own passage through their grief. That relieved the stress I might have felt from wanting or needing them to be different. So try to give others the breathing room they need to respond to this current crisis in their own way. It will help both of you.
Fear and Anxiety Are Contagious Too. You may have seen the articles that talk about another contagion we are facing. As you can see from the title of this section, it's not a virus--but in some ways it's even more insidious. We can pick it up through our sense of smell, by our natural tendency, without even realizing it, to mimic or mirror others' physical movements and expressions, or simply by reading anxious or fearful accounts by others. The really excellent news is that we can do something about it. Not just not pick up and pass on that anxiety, but actively spread a little calm and peace around. The two best articles I've seen on all this have been in, strangely enough, the Harvard Business Review (they've had some excellent articles about various aspects of the pandemic): The Contagion We Can Control and Anxiety is Contagious: Here's How to Contain It. So, if you are spending time reading about--and especially using--any of the tools here, or in those two articles, or others you know that work for you, you are contributing to flattening the curve for this other contagion. We're not talking about peanuts here--this is very important. People make bad decisions when they are stressed, and stress-related anxiety and fear can spread very quickly. Also, since stress can challenge the immune system, by becoming less stressed and more calm you are helping yourself and others around you deal with the coronavirus itself as well.
Reel it in. Think fly fishing here. I don't know about you but I seem to have the ability to very vividly imagine any number of possible futures. That serves me very well as a writer and I am grateful for it, but when it comes to worry about what might happen tomorrow or next week or next year in these unprecedented times, it tends to function much more as a curse. When I cast my thoughts far into the future, I often imagine the worst. When I finally realize what I am doing, I can reel that imagination back in, like a fly fisher--around and around and around and around--until my awareness is back in present, back in my body, back in a calmer space. Next time you cast your thoughts too far into the future, you might say to yourself, "Reel it in, my friend, come on and reel it back in."
And now for a little comic relief. The Atlantic has a nice article on why there is so much coronavirus humor going around. Here are a few quotes from that article, and then a few of my favorite memes and cartoons (the clean ones).
"'We don’t laugh at scary things because we don’t understand their seriousness....We laugh because they’re serious. Making jokes gives us a sense of power over the threat.'”
"People are looking for the release of comedy—and the knowledge that they are not alone. If we’re all finding this experience of being forced to stay at home funny, it’s reassuring, a form of collective therapy."
"We laugh, then, to take back control and to connect—two things we have lost in our fight against the coronavirus."
You gotta laugh...
We're all in this together. By the way, here's a link to a very interesting (not humorous!) article on why we have a toilet paper shortage--it's not as much about hoarding as you thought.
Until next time,
Cover photo: Jude Back, unSplash
Louis Hansel, unSplash
Fernando CFerdro (?), unSplash
Can Stock Photo
Cartoons: Bored Panda or anonymous